Australian Facebook users realised last week that they could no longer read, access, or share news articles on the social media platform. Facebook, the world’s largest social media site, has banned news in Australia. This episode will look at why this happened, and what some of the consequences could be!
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How do you use social media? When the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram started they were designed for people to connect with their friends online and share their experiences, lives and opinions. However, as more and more people joined those platforms, companies and organisations did so too! They realised it is an excellent way to advertise their products or increase the amount of people reading their articles. The difference between the Facebook I started using over 10 years ago, and the Facebook of today is enormous! I think the majority of things shown to me on my newsfeed are sponsored by companies, or articles shared from online news sources.
In fact, social media has quickly become one of the most important news sources around the world. Just as TV replaced newspapers as a source of news in the 20th century, social media is now rivalling TV. Young people, especially, tend to use Facebook, Twitter, or similar platforms everyday for news even though the quality of that news is not always the best!
Despite this, last week Australians discovered that they were unable to share or read news content on Facebook. For all the people who use Facebook as a source for news, read newspaper or news company Facebook pages, or share articles themselves, that is no longer possible. All news content in Australia has been blocked by Facebook. And it’s not just news from Australia: international sources have also been restricted. This episode will look at why Facebook decided to take such a drastic action in Australia. We will look at some of the consequences, as well as what it means for other social media and tech platforms including Google!
Australia is about to pass a law called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which will force platforms like Facebook and Google to pay news publishers if they host some of their content. While Google is currently busy making deals with different Australian news publishers, Facebook has decided to do the opposite! Facebook has decided that the law won’t affect them if there is no news on their apps and pages. So, instead of paying companies for their work, they just blocked it entirely. Facebook has banned all users from sharing links to Australian news sources; they have banned Australian publications’ pages from hosting any of their own content at all; and stopped Australian users from sharing any news links at all, Australian or international. In fact, Facebook seems to be blocking anything that it thinks might be an Australian news source – although, some sites currently restricted are definitely not news sites. Some government pages have also been blocked!
According to Facebook, “as the law does not provide a clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.” What does this mean? Basically, they are not sure what news content means, so they have blocked everything that could possibly be considered news! Nevertheless, Australia has said that Facebook’s action has made them more determined to pass the law! They even claimed that other governments around the world might also try to force Facebook to pay news sites!
What is the new law that is causing so much trouble? The proposed law says that companies like Facebook and Google have to pay news organizations if their content is featured on their sites or applications, such as in Google search results or Facebook shares. News companies around the world have struggled to make money over the last few decades. Less people are buying newspapers or paying for online news content, and advertisers tend to advertise through Facebook or Google, rather than directly with the news providers! An inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that big tech companies collected the largest share of revenue and profits in the media space. For instance, of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media, about A$81 goes to Google and Facebook. It is Google and Facebook who are making billions of dollars through online advertisements on news articles, while the companies that actually write the news are going bankrupt!
Although the Australian law only applies to Google and Facebook at the moment, it could also be extended to other digital platforms that will be decided by the government. Under the law, the platforms will have to make agreements over payments with the different news publishers in Australia. Google has started to make these agreements. Last Wednesday it announced a deal Australian Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., as well as with a few other smaller publishers! It is not just Australia that is considering laws like this; Google is already making similar deals in France as that country considers a similar law to Australia. Facebook took a different approach. They are so reluctant to pay for content shared on the social media platform that they banned all news from being shared.
There have also been some unintended consequences of Facebook’s decision! Some emergency services and Australian government health-department pages were also blocked (although this was quickly solved)! Some welfare groups like Women’s Health Tasmania were also affected. More concerning, the BBC has reported that bad information has already increased in Australia. While before the ban, the majority of top news links connected to Coronavirus or the vaccines were from top or respected news sites, after the ban there were more misleading websites!
Is the Australian government right to make Facebook and Google pay? Or is Facebook right to block news articles? There is currently a strong debate about this at the moment! Some people have congratulated Australia. They argue tech companies should pay the news organizations for all of the content and advertisement money they’ve used to become major companies over the last decade! On the other hand, is it right to force one company to pay another company? Especially considering most of the major Australian media companies are owned by some of the richest and most influential people in the country. Will it actually benefit ordinary journalists, or just make rich people who own newspapers even richer?
Facebook has strongly argued against the law. They believe that it’s actually the publishers that benefit from Facebook, not the other way around. The social media giant has said that Facebook generated billions of dollars for Australian companies, and also claims that less than four percent of content on news feed is news. Although they are right that there are millions of people clicking on news links on the sites and reading different news platforms content, you also need to remember that Facebook makes most of the money from advertisements! Facebook does not like to be regulated. They actually already pay for content in the US and the UK, however they made those agreements themselves – they were not forced to do so!
What do you think? Should Facebook and Google be forced to pay news companies if news content is shared on their platforms? Or do the news companies already benefit enough from social media companies? I think we also have to remember how rich and powerful the major news organizations, and the owners of those organisations, are in modern Australia. This law will benefit those major companies. Where do you get most of your news? DO you think there are any problems with using social media as your main news source?